The alternate title for this latest space thriller might be Alien: Again, for while it provides plenty of scares and visual effects, it is basically a retread of what we’ve seen before…not only in Ridley Scott’s original Alien but his most recent prequel, Prometheus. An intrepid (and well-cast) crew explores an unknown planet only to find themselves victimized by gruesome monsters who invade their bodies and emit lots of goo.

Another lesson already learned in Prometheus: don’t trust Artificial Intelligence, even if it is cloaked in the form of Michael Fassbender. The new movie introduces us to his souped-up superior, a lookalike who conducts philosophical conversations with his dangerous doppelganger. There is an air of pretension to this aspect of the film, especially considering that it’s far from original. We learned all we need to know about this topic—at least, movie-wise—years ago from HAL 9000: as soon as you allow man-made creations to think for themselves, you’re in for trouble.

That’s the trouble with Alien: Covenant. Members of the Covenant crew repeatedly say things like “I’m just going over here to wash up” or “I’m going to take a leak.” Why do they feel the need to walk away into the darkness to do anything when it’s inevitably going to invite a monstrous attack? This B-movie trope seems unworthy of director Ridley Scott, who is working from a screenplay credited to the prolific John Logan and Dante Harper, based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green.

The strongest asset of Alien: Covenant is a tangible feeling of a team at work. Scott has chosen an interesting array of actors, with Katherine Waterston scoring particularly well as a strong but emotionally vulnerable heroine and Danny McBride in a serious role as a skillful and determined pilot.

Alien: Covenant is well-made and never dull, but you can learn all the exposition you need from the trailer. And if you’re a wimp, like me, and jump at every gooey attack, you may tire of the repetition fairly soon.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024